Thursday, May 10, 2012

Weighty Subject

I am trying not to feel too bad for missing spin class last night, especially since I can't make it to this weekend's training ride. I have to work on Saturday, and last night I just felt ick. Intestinal distress that got worse as the day went on. This is an indicator to me that I am Highly Stressed. It always hits me in the gut.

Anyway, I thought I'd talk about something that a lot of people, it seems, tend to think of when it comes to cycling and endurance training: weight. As in, the losing of it. Even just the idea of riding a bicycle for weight loss, outside of endurance training - it's a thing in people's heads. So let me address it.

I am occasionally asked if I'm losing weight - sometimes people even observe that I have lost weight. Except that I haven't. At all. None, aside from the same 3-5 pounds that always fluctuate with me. And yes, as I mentioned, I have actively tried to lose weight the last couple of months. And yes, as you know, I've been doing a lot of spin classes for months, have cut out daily sweets (and all ice cream, sigh), bike commuting a few days a week, and of course the long training rides. That's why I'm writing this: people think that all of that adds up to inevitable weight loss. But I am here to tell you that no: you're wrong. It doesn't.

I'm sorry to have to say that. Because it's really, really depressing for people. If I think about it enough, it depresses me too: you can do all that, you can work so so SO hard - and still never lose an ounce. It is a cruel truth.

A disclaimer here: everyone's body is different and mine is unusually stubborn about weight loss. (To the extent that sometimes I feel like I should be studied by cutting-edge medical researchers.) I have learned from past experience that for me to lose weight requires at minimum of 15 days in a row of reducing caloric intake to near-starvation levels. And that's no exaggeration - I'm talking about bringing it down to 1200 calories per day, every day for two weeks before my body finally lets go of an ounce. I don't think most other people have to be this extreme. In fact, I know of many people who have simply cut out weekday beer-drinking, or sodas, and the pounds fall off. (NOTE: All of those people are men. And yes, I would like to punch each and every one of them.) But my body seems to be genetically engineered for indentured servitude: constant physical exertion and very little food. It's what my body expects, every minute, and what its fat cells are working toward.

In general I think there's this myth that no matter what, if you move your body more, you will magically be skinny. This is as much of a lie as the notion that all you have to do is drink a special protein shake - or incorporate pomegranate juice into your diet, or cut out pasta, or eat a grapefruit with every meal, or sleep with your feet higher than your head - and voilĂ  weight loss. "Lots of exercise" is just another item in the long list of magic bullets we all seem to believe in. Everyone always thinks there's just one special thing that will do it. Maybe it's an easy thing, like pill. Maybe it's a hard thing, like working out 5 days a week. But it's just one thing they have to change in order to get there. There's a simple formula, that's what everyone thinks.

And I suppose there is one thing: eat less. The end. That won't make you healthy, but it'll take the pounds off.

Significantly increasing the level of my physical exertion makes me super-hungry a lot of the time. So cutting my calories down to below 1500 is just not happening. There's being hungry, and then there's Seriously Needing To Eat Now. I have definitely reduced my intake, but not to the level where it would make a difference to my body. I am pretty tough and can be very disciplined, but I am not Superwoman and my stores of strength are limited. I want to eat a WHOLE sandwich for my lunch after spin class - and maybe a granola bar too! - even if it wipes out half the calories I just burned.

Now, a lot of people get into endurance training and they shed pounds like crazy. If you're considering it as a way to lose weight, don't let me discourage you. As I said, every human body is different and mine is not like yours. But do not automatically believe what some people will say about it - that as long as you're working your body like that, you can eat whatever you want. Because that is not true for everyone. Not in the least.

So the lesson here is: eat less if you want to lose weight; exercise more if you want a healthy body; and consider these two things rather mutually exclusive, no substitutes or exchanges.

Fortunately, I didn't do this to lose weight. I did want to get healthier, and stronger - and it will do that. So no, I haven't lost weight and am fat and sassy as I ever was. Maybe in a few weeks, when this is over and I go back to my normal life but add in a daily bike commute, the added exercise will become normal and I can naturally take in less calories and voilĂ . We'll see, who knows. But for right now, as far as bodily benefits go:  my legs feel about 10 times stronger, and my joints never feel rusty, and my back hasn't gone out in months. I have a whole host of new bodily pains -- everyone also asks if I feel great, but I haven't been able to get to "great" yet. (So far training has been all about this or that muscle protesting.) But I feel a hell of a lot better than if I weren't doing it.

It does suck, of course, to work so hard and not get that one benefit. But I don't mind so much, except that I'd hoped for less weight to lighten the load on my bike and add speed. That's not happening. Also, it's really, really, really sad to me that my jersey for Tahoe (provided by Team In Training) doesn't fit. It's too tight, even though I ordered the same size as the other shirt they gave me months ago, and which fits fine. If I'd just lost 10 pounds -- all that work, it'd be nice if I got 10 pounds out of it! -- the shirt would have fit. But it doesn't. And they don't order extras so there's no replacement. I guess it doesn't matter that I don't look like the rest of the team in this way, since there are so many other ways I don't fit into the team (which is a whole other topic for a whole other post), but it bums me out that I can't even have that.

Anyway, there you have it: suddenly biking everywhere will not in and of itself automatically change your body type. So don't do it for that. There are a load of other reasons for doing it, though, so don't dismiss it outright.

And now I will hop on my bike and go to work, which is a pretty great way to spend a sunny early summer morning, I'll have you know, and which I'm finally able to do because of this whole experience.

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